`Concerned' and `Embarrassed': Ship-In Trainers React to Louisiana Medication Rules Changes

Steve Asmussen | Sarah Andrew photo


Thursday's TDN contains a story by Bill Finley discussing the set of more lenient medication rules that the Louisiana Racing Commission has recently enacted. Louisiana is not a state governed by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, and the new rules, which replace the ARCI model rules previously used, are scheduled to go into effect on June 8. 

In Thursday's story, HISA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Lazarus suggested that there might have to be additional scrutiny on horses coming out of Louisiana races in the spring because of the more lax medication rules. 

The TDN reached out to several trainers who winter at Fair Grounds, but do not stable there year-round, to see how they felt about the new medication policies. 


Steve Asmussen

It's obviously concerning. No horse that you're going to plan on running somewhere else would you dare treat with (the new rules) and the people who plan on running anything out of state are not going to jeopardize our whole year with a horse.. I'm interested in what Churchill Downs's policy is going to be. I feel that the Fair Grounds is a great place to winter those horses because of what they get done the rest of the year after coming out of there, and that won't change. But what does it mean for the day-to-day racing? That remains to be seen. Per usual, we're not in the room when these decisions are made. It makes it a topic of discussion between me and every person that I train for. Of course you're not going to do anything to jeopardize a horse's eligibility the rest of the year.

This is completely out of our hands. This is another example of, “here's policy. Do your best.” What does it mean for our Oaks and Derby races? Our game is run for the Derby and the Oaks and Churchill Downs are in control of them and it will be interesting to see what they choose to do starting with those races.


Brad Cox

When I was reading the (Thursday) article about this, I felt like I was reading an article that was printed 10 years ago. But it was written yesterday.


Michael Stidham

I am astonished with the decision. The decision was made with complete reckless abandon. It's a step backwards, in my opinion. Knowing the different properties of Clenbuterol—it can be helpful in the right circumstances, but unfortunately sometimes in our industry the people who are using it are not using it for the best reasons. To be bringing that back and allowing people to use it potentially for the wrong reasons is a big step backwards. My home is a block from the Fair Grounds, and the Fair Grounds has been my winter base for over 25 years, and this is going to cause big problems for me personally when I leave the Fair Grounds. I'm not a year-round Louisiana trainer. I won't be using Clenbuterol on my horses, so I'll be at a disadvantage. When I do leave, there are just going to be a lot of negatives to this decision they have made.

I don't even know what to say or why they would think that this would be helpful for the industry. I just don't see it. I certainly have not used Depo in any of my horses' joints over the last 10 years or more and I certainly don't have any intentions of re-introducing it to my horses. Depo is considered detrimental to the joint and there wouldn't be a case where I would want to use it again. Unfortunately, there is a certain group in our industry that will do that. It's unfortunate but it happens and yes, there will be people trying to use it to their advantage. It's going to create lots of problems for the trainers that use the Fair Grounds for their winter stabling. I'm just shocked that they would be doing this or thought that it's helpful. I'm just hoping that they can see the light and realize this is not a move in the right direction.


Tom Amoss | Sarah Andrew photo

Tom Amoss

Two weeks ago, I heard about this and I immediately called the Louisiana Racing Commission. I know both the head of the Commission, Steve Landry, and Gerald Calogero, the number two guy there, and I called Gerald and said literally verbatim what the (TDN) article said (Thursday). And he said, `boy, I wish you'd said something before we made this official.' I said I didn't even know. Then later that evening Steve Landry, the new Executive Director, called me. I've trained a few horses for him, and I repeated my concerns with their decision. He said, `look, we never knew there was anybody against this.' I have the strong sense that there was nothing sinister, and they just rubber-stamped what came along. They seemed to think it was the Louisiana HBPA's decision, and someone there was trying to push it through.

As for the vets consulted on this decision, I 've never heard of these guys. Two of them are Quarter Horse vets and one is a farm veterinarian. There's one former racetrack vet, and he was against it. I've been around Louisiana racing a long time, and I didn't recognize any of them. I do find it disappointing and embarrassing and rather surprising that Steve (Landry), who has been a horse owner for years, would agree with this. I told them both, first of all, you've created an unfair playing field, People who don't race outside of Louisiana are going to take advantage of these rules. And for the ones who compete under HISA, they're not going to do that. The major trainers, who have the majority of the stalls, are not going to do this. And that creates an unfair playing field.

Breeders with yearlings bred in Louisiana bring their select yearlings to the Keeneland September sale, because they realize far more money for them than they would in Louisiana. But who in the world is going to buy a Louisiana-bred racehorse under these circumstances? It's so far-reaching and such a baffling decision. I grew up in Louisiana. My first job was at the age of 15 at the Fair Grounds and I'm proud of Louisiana racing. But today is a day that I am embarrassed for it.


Al Stall

They are tweaks from last year's rules, when we had the ARCI model rules. Without looking at it super-close, I'm not going to say the whole thing is great or the whole thing is horrible. I imagine it will look a little bit different by the time we get to the Fair Grounds. Obviously, the elephant in the room is the Clenbuterol. These are things that are out of our control. I'll be at the Fair Grounds, I'll tell you that. I'm going to let it roll and see what happens. I'm comfortable using what we're using now. I haven't used Depo in such a long time that it's not even on my radar. The person behind a lot of this in my mind is the leading expert in horse pharmacology, Dr. Steven Barker, and I'm not going to question what he has to say.

The Clenbuterol is the grey area. The Depo all depends upon the horse and what is going on with the horse. I can't remember the last time we had Depo. It's been a long, long time. The horses who go into the starting gate without a drop of Clenbuterol as opposed to those who withdrew at 72 hours? I'm not sure there's empirical data but there's sure talk around the track. Clenbuterol is actually a very helpful drug for horses with dirty tracheas, but it got abused. I don't think that what you see on this piece of paper that came out is going to be the Bible, so to speak. But I may be wrong. The powers that be in Louisiana understand what could happen with us going to different jurisdictions, and we're all hoping this will be ironed out before we go down there.


Dallas Stewart

It's quite concerning. I just don't know that that's the right route to go. I think most horsemen that are coming from Kentucky think that it will be a setback. We're in the shock stage right now, so I'm hopeful that we can get something ironed out, and stay in a positive way. We're shocked. The Clenbuterol is something we don't need to be dealing with. We all know that it was a drug that was abused. We've got to get that off the table. Listen, we all love racing there, I have owners that love going there, but they're going to be quite concerned. We've got to get to work on it and get to talking so hopefully we can get a middle ground that's good for everybody and good for the horse. A lot of daggers are being thrown at this point, and we've got to get to the right person to fix this, but I don't even know who that is right now. I'm very concerned.


Cherie DeVaux

Listen, we all have to go down there and abide by Kentucky rules. The rules that they had prior to passing this weren't reckless. Some of the rules made more sense than HISA rules. But this is to me a lack of regard for the safety of the horse and the riders and it's borderline negligent. Since we took away Depo, we've had a lot fewer breakdowns. We're just there for a short amount of time in their year of racing and these rules are not directed toward the transient trainers. They're more structured for those that are there year-round. It impedes what we do and our standards to run, we're at a disadvantage.

It is what it is, and there are times when you just have to go on and do what's right, which is to abide by the standards we're held to when we get back to a HISA state. It's a step backwards. Their rules were (already) more lenient, and this is going backwards. Maybe those who passed this didn't look into the statistical data or don't know how to interpret the statistical data to show that the rules they're implementing are a risk and a harm and negligent on their part.

Dan Ross contributed to this story. 

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